Transnistria (geographical region)

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Geographical region of Transnistria throughout history

Transnistria (Romanian: Transnistria, [transˈnistria]; Russian: Приднестровье; Ukrainian: Придністров'я) is a region in Eastern Europe, a narrow strip of territory to the east of the River Dniester. The PMR controls the main part of this region, and also the city of Bender and its surrounding localities on the west bank, in the historical region of Bessarabia.

After the dissolution of the USSR, tensions between Moldova and the breakaway Transnistrian territory escalated into a military conflict that started in March 1992 and was concluded by a ceasefire in July of the same year. As part of that agreement, a three-party (Russia, Moldova, Transnistria) Joint Control Commission supervises the security arrangements in the demilitarised zone, comprising twenty localities on both sides of the river. Although the ceasefire has held, the territory's political status remains unresolved: Transnistria is an unrecognised but de facto independent [1][2][3][4] semi-presidential republic with its own government, parliament, military, police, postal system, currency and vehicle registration. Its authorities have adopted a constitution, flag, national anthem, and coat of arms. It is the only country still using the hammer and sickle on its flag.

After a 2005 agreement between Moldova and Ukraine, all Transnistrian companies that seek to export goods through the Ukrainian border must be registered with the Moldovan authorities.[5] This agreement was implemented after the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) took force in 2005.[6] Most Transnistrians also have Moldovan citizenship,[7] but many Transnistrians also have Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. The largest ethnic group is Moldovans (32.1%), who historically had a higher share of the population, up to 49.4% in 1926.

Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Artsakh are post-Soviet "frozen conflict" zones.[8][9] These four partially recognised states maintain friendly relations with each other and form the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations.[10][11][12]


The region is also known in English as "Trans-Dniestr"[13] or "Transdniestria".[14] Etymologically, these names are adaptations of the Romanian colloquial name of the region, "Transnistria" meaning "beyond the River Dniester".

The documents of the government of Moldova refer to the region as Stînga Nistrului (in full, Unitățile Administrativ-Teritoriale din Stînga Nistrului) meaning "Left Bank of the Dniester" (in full, "Administrative-territorial unit(s) of the Left Bank of the Dniester").

The name of the region according to the Transnistrian authorities is Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) (Russian: Приднестровская Молдавская Республика, ПМР, Pridnestrovskaya Moldavskaya Respublika; Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet: Република Молдовеняскэ Нистрянэ, РМН, Romanian: Republica Moldovenească Nistreană; Ukrainian: Придністровська Молдавська Республіка, ПМР, Prydnistrovs'ka Moldavs'ka Respublika). The short form of this name is Pridnestrovie (Russian: Приднестровье, Pridnestrovye; Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet: Нистрения,[15] Nistrenia; Ukrainian: Придністров'я, Prydnistrovya). "Pridnestrovie" is a transliteration of the Russian "Приднестровье" meaning "[a land] by the [River] Dniester".


Antiquity and Middle Ages

Indo-European tribes had for millennia inhabited the area where Transnistria now is when it was a borderland between Dacia and Scythia. The Tyragetae (a Getae Thracian tribe) inhabited the area around the River Dniester (called "Tyras" in ancient documents) as well as the Scythians. Early Germanic and Turkic tribes were present in the area during their attacks and invasions of the Roman Empire.

From 56 AD, the coastal area around the city of Tyras was occupied by the Romans for nearly four centuries, forming part of the province of Lower Moesia. Tyras enjoyed great development during Roman times: there is a series of its coins with heads of emperors from Domitian to Alexander Severus. But in the second half of the fourth century the area was continuously attacked by barbarians and the Roman legionaries left Tyras.

In the early Middle Ages, Slavic tribes of Tivertsi and Ulichs[16] populated larger areas, including Transnistria, followed by Turkic nomads such as the Petchenegs[17] and Cumans.

Possibly an early part of Kievan Rus', after the Mongol invasion of Europe in 1241, the territory was briefly under Mongol control (yet probably without any permanent settlements) and later under the Crimean Khanate.[18][19][20]

Early modern period

From the 15th century, northern Transnistria (current districts of Camenca and Rîbniţa) were part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,[21][22][23][24][25] and later to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1793) which encouraged the migration of peasants into the territory from the neighbouring populated areas (from north and from west). Prince of Moldavia George Ducas (1665–66, 1668–72, 1678–84) built a court at Țicanova on the east bank of the Dniester, and one at Nimirov on the Southern Bug, last mentioned in Moldavian hands in 1765.[26][27] The localities Dubăsari, Rașcov, Vasilcău, as well as four other currently in Ukraine are mentioned in 17th–18th centuries as fairs for the Dniester-Bug region. In 1769, a document dated at Bender mentions the then title of the Mitropolitan of Moldavia as Mitropolitan of Proilavia, of Tamarova, of Hotin, and of all the borders of the Danube, of the Dniester, and the Han's Ukraine,[28] the latter being a common reference to the then sparsely populated Dniester–Southern BugDniepr area.

Before becoming part of the Russian Empire in 1792 (southern part) and 1793 (northern part) the largest groups living between the Dniester and the Bug rivers were Moldavian, Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and Tatar peasants.[29] The Russian census of 1793 of the Ochakov region (southern part of the Dniester-Bug area) mentions a totality of 67 villages, of which 49 are mentioned as Moldavian and 18 as Tatar.[30] The first candidate for the governor of the new Russian region was the Moldavian boyar of Greek ancestry Alexandru I. Mavrocordat.[31] The northern part of Transnistria had Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and Moldavian villages.

Russian Empire

Grigoriopol was founded by Russian Empress Catherine II in 1792.

In 1792, the region became part of the Russian Empire as a result of the sixth Russo-Turkish War. In that year, the general Alexander Suvorov founded modern Tiraspol as a Russian border fortress.[32] Until the Russian Revolution of 1917, the current Transnistria was divided among the imperial guberniyas of Podolia, Kherson, and Bessarabia. Most of the territory which now is Transnistria was part of the larger New Russia region,[33] hence it saw a strong colonisation process, with a multitude of ethnicities being settled: lands were given to enserfed peasantry from Russia and Ukraine in Nova Serbia, while Jews and Germans were brought in to facilitate economic development.

Soviet and Romanian administration

Moldavian ASSR (orange) and Romania, 1924–1940
Nowadays Transnistria in relation to the rest of Moldova, landlocked along the border with Ukraine

Transnistria became an autonomous political entity in 1924 with the proclamation of the Moldavian ASSR, which included today's Transnistria (4,000 km2) and an adjacent area (9,000 km2) around the city of Balta in modern-day Ukraine, but nothing from Bessarabia, which at the time formed part of Romania. One of the reasons for the creation of the Moldavian ASSR was the desire of the Soviet Union at the time to eventually incorporate Bessarabia.[citation needed] The Moldavian SSR, organised by a decision of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on 2 August 1940, was formed out of a part of Bessarabia (taken from Romania on 28 June, after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) and out of a part of the Moldavian ASSR roughly equivalent to present-day Transnistria.

In 1941, after Axis forces invaded the Soviet Union during the Second World War, they defeated the Soviet troops in the region and occupied it. Romania controlled the entire region between Dniester and Southern Bug rivers, including the city of Odessa as local capital.[34]

The Romanian-administered territory – called the Transnistria Governorate – with an area of 44,000 km2 and a population of 2.3 million inhabitants, was divided into 13 counties: Ananiev, Balta, Berzovca, Dubasari, Golta, Jugastru, Movilau, Oceacov, Odessa, Ovidiopol, Rîbnița, Tiraspol and Tulcin. This enlarged Transnistria was home to nearly 200,000 Romanian/Moldovan-speaking residents.

The Romanian administration of Transnistria attempted to stabilise the situation in the area under Romanian control, implementing a process of Romanianization.[35]

During the Romanian occupation of 1941–44, between 150,000 and 250,000 Ukrainian and Romanian Jews had been deported to Transnistria and the majority were executed or died from other causes in ghettos and concentration camps of the Governorate.[36]

After the Red Army reconquered the area in 1944, Soviet authorities executed, exiled or imprisoned hundreds of the Moldavian SSR inhabitants in the following months on charges of collaboration with the "German-fascist occupiers". A later campaign was directed against the rich peasant families, who were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. Over the course of two days, 6–7 July 1949, a plan named "Operation South" saw the deportation of over 11,342 families by the order of the Moldovian Minister of State Security, I. L. Mordovets.[37]


Igor Smirnov, first president of Transnistria from 1991–2011
Soviet symbols are still used in Transnistria.

In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union allowed political liberalisation at a regional level. This led to the creation of various informal movements all over the country, and to a rise of nationalism within most Soviet republics. In the Moldavian SSR in particular, there was a significant resurgence of pro-Romanian nationalism among ethnic Moldovans.[38] The most prominent of these movements was the Popular Front of Moldova. In the spring of 1988, PFM demanded that the Soviet authorities declare Moldovan the only state language, return to the use of the Latin alphabet, and recognise the shared ethnic identity of Moldovans and Romanians. The more radical factions of the Popular Front espoused extreme anti-minority, ethnocentric and chauvinist positions,[39][40] calling for minority populations, particularly the Slavs (mainly Russians and Ukrainians) and Gagauz, to leave or be expelled from Moldova.[41]

On 31 August 1989, the Supreme Council of the Moldavian SSR adopted Moldovan as the only official language with Russian retained only for secondary purposes, returned Moldovan to the Latin alphabet, and declared a shared Moldovan-Romanian linguistic identity. As plans for major cultural changes in Moldova were made public, tensions rose further. Ethnic minorities felt threatened by the prospects of removing Russian as the official language, which served as the medium of interethnic communication, and by the possible future reunification of Moldova and Romania, as well as the ethnocentric rhetoric of the Popular Front. The Yedinstvo (Unity) Movement, established by the Slavic population of Moldova, pressed for equal status to be given to both Russian and Moldovan.[42] Transnistria's ethnic and linguistic composition differed significantly from most of the rest of Moldova. The share of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians was especially high and an overall majority of the population, some of them ethnic Moldovans, spoke Russian as a mother tongue.[43] Ethnic Moldovans accounted for less than 40% of Transnistria's population in 1989.

The nationalist Popular Front won the first free parliamentary elections in the Moldavian SSR in the spring of 1990,[44] and its agenda started slowly to be implemented. On 2 September 1990, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed as a Soviet republic by an ad hoc assembly, the Second Congress of the Peoples' Representatives of Transnistria. Violence escalated when in October 1990 the Popular Front called for volunteers to form armed militias to stop an autonomy referendum in Gagauzia, which had an even higher share of ethnic minorities. In response, volunteer militias were formed in Transnistria. In April 1990, nationalist mobs attacked ethnic Russian members of parliament, while the Moldovan police refused to intervene or restore order.[45]

In the interest of preserving a unified Moldavian SSR within the USSR and preventing the situation escalating further, then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, while citing the restriction of civil rights of ethnic minorities by Moldova as the cause of the dispute, declared the Transnistria proclamation to be lacking legal basis and annulled it by presidential decree on 22 December 1990.[46][47] Nevertheless, no significant action was taken against Transnistria and the new authorities were slowly able to establish control of the region.

War of Transnistria

The War of Transnistria followed armed clashes on a limited scale which broke out between Transnistrian separatists and Moldova as early as November 1990 at Dubăsari. Volunteers, including Cossacks, came from Russia to help the separatist side.[48] In mid-April 1992, under the agreements on the split of the military equipment of the former Soviet Union negotiated between the former 15 republics in the previous months, Moldova created its own Defence Ministry. According to the decree of its creation, most of the 14th Soviet Army's military equipment was to be retained by Moldova.[49] Starting from 2 March 1992, there was concerted military action between Moldova and Transnistria. Throughout early 1992 the fighting intensified. The former Soviet 14th Guards Army entered the conflict in its final stage, opening fire against Moldovan forces;[49] Approximately 700 people were killed. Since then, Moldova has exercised no effective control or influence on Transnistrian authorities. A ceasefire agreement was signed on 21 July 1992 and has held to the present day.


Transnistria is landlocked and borders Bessarabia (i.e., the rest of Moldova, for 411 km) to the West, and Ukraine (for 405 km) to the East. It is a narrow valley stretching in the North-South direction along the bank of the Dniester river, which forms a natural boundary along most of the border with (the rest of) Moldova.

The territory controlled by the PMR is mostly, but not completely, coincident with the left (eastern) bank of Dniester. It includes ten cities and towns, and 69 communes, with a total of 147 localities (counting the unincorporated ones as well). Six communes on the left bank (Cocieri, Molovata Nouă, Corjova, Pîrîta, Coșnița, and Doroțcaia) remained under the control of the Moldovan government after the War of Transnistria in 1992, as part of the Dubăsari District. They are situated north and south of the city of Dubăsari, which itself is under PMR control. The village of Roghi of Molovata Nouă Commune is also controlled by the PMR (Moldova controls the other nine of the ten villages of the six communes).

On the west bank, in Bessarabia, the city of Bender and four communes (containing six villages) to its east, south-east, and south, on the opposite bank of the river Dniester from the city of Tiraspol (Proteagailovca, Gîsca, Chițcani, and Cremenciug) are controlled by the PMR.

The localities controlled by Moldova on the eastern bank, the village of Roghi, and the city of Dubăsari (situated on the eastern bank and controlled by the PMR) form a security zone along with the six villages and one city controlled by the PMR on the western bank, as well as two (Varnița and Copanca) on the same west bank under Moldovan control. The security situation inside it is subject to the Joint Control Commission rulings.

The main transportation route in Transnistria is the road Tiraspol-Dubăsari-Rîbnița. North and south of Dubăsari it passes through the lands of the villages controlled by Moldova (Doroțcaia, Cocieri, Roghi, while Vasilievca is entirely situated east of the road). Conflict erupted on several occasions when the PMR prevented the villagers from reaching their farmland east of the road.[50][51][52]

Transnistrians are able to travel (normally without difficulty) in and out of the territory under PMR control to neighbouring Moldovan-controlled territory, to Ukraine, and on to Russia, by road or (when service is not interrupted by political tensions) on two international trains, the year-round Moscow-Chișinău, and the seasonal Saratov-Varna. International air travellers rely on the airport in Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, or the airport in Odessa, in Ukraine.


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